Scandals in the House Republican Class of 1994
When was it, exactly, that the Republican revolution merged with the sexual revolution?
With each passing year, the class notes for the famous House Republicans Class of '94 get more lurid. The latest entry was submitted Tuesday morning by Rep. Mark Souder (Ind.).
"I sinned against God, my wife and my family by having a mutual relationship with a part-time member of my staff," he announced in a resignation statement.
And it wasn't just any part-time staffer, according to sources in Souder's office. Five months ago, Tracy Jackson was his, er, "co-host" in a video the pair produced for his congressional Web site. The topic: abstinence education.
"You were one of the only voices in the room speaking in defense of abstinence education," Jackson, posing as interviewer, tells her alleged paramour in the video. "You've been a longtime advocate for abstinence education."
Souder, bespectacled with a big puff of gray hair and a double chin, recalled his lonely battle defending abstinence in a hearing room full of skeptical colleagues. "I should have probably abstained from the hearing," he said.
Apparently it's not the only thing from which he should have abstained.
In his downfall, Souder appears likely to join classmates Mark Foley (lewd text messages to House pages), Mark Sanford (hiking the proverbial Appalachian Trail with his Argentine mistress) and John Ensign (whose parents paid the family of his ex-mistress $96,000) in the sex-scandal hall of fame. Another of their classmates, Bob Ney, did prison time for his role in the Jack Abramoff scandal.
As Eric Massa, John Edwards and Eliot Spitzer can attest, scandal can visit any party or any political body. But the House Republicans of '94 stand out: No fewer than 15 of the 73 elected in the landslide that year have entertained the nation with flaps that include messy divorces and a suspicious car accident.
In his hasty farewell, Souder took the well-worn path of blaming his departure on Washington. "In the poisonous environment of Washington, D.C., any personal failing is seized upon, often twisted, for political gain," he complained. "I am resigning rather than put my family through that painful, drawn-out process."
Yet millions of people live in the Washington area, and relatively few of us have adulterous relationships with married subordinates we have hired to assist us in broadcasts for Christian media outlets. That, and not this town's "poisonous environment," is why Souder is resigning.
Perhaps the problem is that lawmakers are spending too little time in Washington. In the old days, they moved their families here; now they jet back and forth and focus on raising campaign money, straining marriages. That reality, combined with the sense of invincibility many lawmakers acquire, has ensnared more than a few of Souder's classmates -- most of whom came to town with a "family values" message.
Some had a colorful record before they arrived. There was, for example, twice-divorced Bob Barr (Ga.), who at a 1992 charity event reportedly licked whipped cream from the chests of two women. His problems with dairy products continued after he left Congress, when he was interviewed in the film "Borat" and told that the cheese he had just sampled was made with breast milk.
For others, the trouble began soon after they arrived in Washington in 1995. Reps. Jim Bunn (Ore.), James Longley (Maine) and Jon Christensen (Neb.) went through public divorce proceedings. Rep. Enid Greene (Utah) filed for divorce and abandoned reelection plans when her husband, Joe Waldholtz, disappeared after being accused of embezzlement. Rep. Joe Scarborough (Fla.), now a TV host, was among those to follow her to divorce court.
Rep. Steve LaTourette (Ohio) did his colleagues one better. His wife accused him of having an affair with his chief of staff; the couple divorced in 2004, and he married the staffer, who had become a lobbyist.
Several of the lawmakers opened themselves up to charges of hypocrisy because of their family-values campaign themes. The late congresswoman Helen Chenoweth (Idaho), who famously warned of "black helicopters," ran a TV ad attacking President Bill Clinton for his affair with a White House intern. A newspaper then forced Chenoweth's admission that she had, after her divorce, been involved in a longtime affair with a married man.
A few of the 73 from '94 had problems unrelated to their hormones. Former congressman J.D. Hayworth, now challenging John McCain in Arizona's Senate primary, got wrapped up in the Abramoff scandal. He held fundraisers in sports skyboxes that lobbyist Abramoff billed to Indian tribes that were his clients; unlike his classmate Ney, he didn't get into legal trouble. There was also Rep. David Funderburk (N.C.). He got into a car accident and then claimed that his wife was driving before he finally accepted legal responsibility.
To the '94 honor roll is now added the name of Souder, who championed abstinence education while allegedly indulging with a woman on his payroll. In their video on abstinence, she offered sympathetic "mm-hmms" as he lamented that efforts "to get kids to abstain from sex" are so difficult. "Guess what," he told her. "Nothing works very well."
Doesn't she know it.